At the very centre of our Order is the Rose. It is not only the first part of the name of our Degree, but it plays a significant role in our ritual. We are told that the Rose is an emblem of secrecy and silence. This is not in itself a new idea. It so originates in classical mythology when Cupid, the Boy of Love, presented Hippocrates with a rose not to reveal the frequent amours of his mother Venus, the Goddess of Love.

This gave rise to the custom in ancient Rome and still existing in some parts of Italy into the Middle Ages, whereby Innkeepers hung a branch of rose bush outside their door as a sign that the staff would be discreet about meetings of conspirators or assignations which took place inside. Until quite recently the phrase "subrosa" was used in place of our modem "off the record". Banqueting halls were built, especially in England, with roses sculpted into the plaster of woodwork of the ceiling to remind diners, as someone once put it, that things heard "sub rosa" (under the rose), and possibly "sub vino" (under the influence of wine) should not be talked about "sub divo" (out in the open air).

The Rose was brought to England by the Romans - the "rosa-canina" (the dog rose). The Norman French brought the "rosa Gallica" (the French rose), a red rose which became the emblem of the House of Lancaster. Crossing this French rose with the dog rose produced a white bloom, later adopted as the emblem of the House of York. When Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian, married Elizabeth, Duchess of York, and so brought to an end the War of the Roses, he superimposed the red on the white, creating the Tudor Rose as the emblem of the United Kingdom.

In Winchester, uphill from the Cathedral, there hangs on the wall of the Guildhall, a large oaken table reputed to be the Round Table of King Arthur. In 1522, Henry VIII, son of the creator of the Tudor Rose, had this table painted for the reception of the Emperor Charles V, with the names of the Knights around the rim and in the centre, the Tudor Rose.

The rose also occurs in our ritual as the Rose of Sharon, linked with The Lily of the Valley. This is a mild misquotation of the first verse of the second canticle of the Song of Solomon, which reads, "I am the Rose of Sharon and Lily of the Valleys". This is one of the only two mentions of the rose in the King James' Bible. The other being in the first verse of Isaiah, Chapter 35 where the desert is said to bloom like the rose. Of course there were no roses in ancient Palestine. In the Hebrew Bible, the word is "Habusaleth", which translates as a bulbous plant, perhaps a crocus but more likely a narcissus. In the Greek Bible, the desert blooms like the lily (not the rose), and in Solomon, our verse when literally translated, becomes "I am the blossom of the open spaces".





When Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the 4th century, he rendered it "Ego Flos Campi" or "I am the flower of the field". That is how it was in the Wyclif Bible and how it is today in the Good News Bible. Indeed it is only in the King James' Bible and today's Jerusalem Bible that the rose appears at all. There is a theory that the translators of the King James' Bible introduced the rose as a patriotic gesture to the recently adopted Tudor Rose.

Of course it is not the Tudor Rose that appears on our jewel or in the presentation to the newly perfected candidate. It is a modern development of those earlier roses which had five simple sepals and five petals, broad and somewhat rounded. Today there are some two hundred varieties throughout the world - about 80% in Asia, 15% in America and the remainder in Europe, Africa and Australia.

The lovely high-scented sculptured blooms which we so greatly prize are quite modern hybrids. But all roses are beautiful and the rose has been attached to the cultures of almost all civilizations. It figures very prominently in their legends, heraldry and religion. It has been the inspiration of poets from Sappho to W.B. Keats - Chaucer, Omar Khayyam, Blake and Burns. It is the appropriate symbol of elegance, romance, love and perfection. There is probably in written English no quotation quite so trite as that of Gertrude Stein, "As rose is a rose, is a rose".

But perhaps we have forgotten that it is the emblem of silence and should now stay our tongue.




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